The year was 2004. It was a year that would entertain the world with the summer Olympic games in Athens, Greece. It was also the year that I would travel to a lesser known area of northeast China – Harbin, China to be exact. Known for its Winter Ice Festival, I arrived in the midst of a heat wave and the midnight sun that revealed a palpable persecution directed at Christ-followers. United by the Gospel, my relationships with Chinese Christ-followers fostered conversations that revealed a people living with the constant threat of persecution. Despite the persecution that fueled invasions of house churches and detention of Christ-followers, each person was resilient even to the point of death, knowing that when they decided to follow Christ, it would cost them their lives. Thirteen years later, persecution persists in China and many other countries around the world.
The overwhelming evidence of global persecution demands that each Christ-follower set aside distractions and grapple with a biblical response. God could have put the Church in a thriving, friendly environment, but He purposefully chose not to do that. In Acts 7 and 8, we inherit a Biblical word picture testifying to persecution in the form of martyrdom. The martyr, Stephen, went before the Sanhedrin and knew the court had a history of murdering prophets because of their offensive message. Nevertheless, Stephen remained true to the Gospel message he had been given by the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the arduous process, Stephen never asked the Father to remove the persecution; instead, he asked that God would receive his Spirit and forgive his attackers. Of course, in a way that only God could provide, He would later honor Stephen’s request in the life of Saul. In the days and years following the stoning of Stephen, a passionate, full-court press against Christ-followers was ignited. In family after family, suspected Christ-followers were dragged from their homes and imprisoned or murdered. The persecution has not ceased.
As I pray for the persecuted Christ followers in China, North Korea, Libya, Somalia, Indonesia, and others, I keep in mind that they do not want me to pray for the persecution to cease because they have seen how the number of Christ followers has multiplied. Consequently, I cannot help but wonder if God placed the church in a hostile, persecuted environment because He knew that it would thrive when desperation and adversity were present. How then should we respond to persecution? We pray.